Tag Archives: writing conference

ERMAgawd: Why You Must Take Risks and Find the Funny

Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.

IMG_3837Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!

ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!

The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.

So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!

And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart. 

I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!

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Oh NBD, just new friends holding up our Liza Donnelly (from The New Yorker) cartoons!

ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go! 

Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons. 

You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.

A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.

 

It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.

You guys all know I went, right? LOL

I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.

After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.

A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.

Find the Funny 

The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.

IMG_3874One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.

 

Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.

It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.

In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.

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I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!

So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!

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What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you? 

 

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City Slickers and Social Media

Hello and welcome to the World of Writers in what will now be referred to as the Wild Wild West of Publishing.  Let me introduce to you our panelists who will cover the vast opinions circling social media today:

Patrick McGilligan, Film biographer and Social Media Nay Sayer. If you'd like to know what he thinks about something, please just email.

Josie Brown, Fiction Women's Lit Author and Social Media Champion. Click the image to link to her blog, facebook, or twitter account.

Judy Molland, Non-fiction Writer, Parenting and Social Media Advocate. For answers about teaching, parenting, writing and social media, Judy is your lady, and it comes with a genuine British accent!

Jim DeRogatis, Music Critic and Rock N'Roll Know-It-All, If you want the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God, Jim's your man. User of social media, pays someone else to do it, but it's definitely NOT his agent!

Wrapping up Saturday at the Writers Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, was a panel on Social Media.  Like old time wanted posters, these four pioneers of authorship sat in the front of the room, sharing their opinions and travels through the Wild Wild West that is today’s publishing process.  Patrick was kindly allowed to speak first, fully knowing the rest of the discussion would come back to charge him like the bull he was.  Patrick, luckily, is a man with a specific area of expertise.  He is a film biographer.  His agent and his publishing house let him submit a list of ideas to write about, they circle one, he does it.  Patrick sees no need for the extra work that goes into maintaining a website, blogging, facebook and twitter, and to him it’s all just that, WORK.  I should tell you that Patrick was pretty honest about not desiring to have it all either.  He makes a decent living for himself and he’s comfortable with that.  He doesn’t actively promote the sales of his books because in his mind it only accounts for about 10% more anyway.  Are you thoroughly depressed or angered yet?

For those of you that are, Josie’s got your back!  Full of biting quips and interjections, she personally forges the way for writers of today to get involved with their audience by allowing the audience to get to know them.  She blogs about things that inspire her and will hopefully inspire her readers.  She tweets, she uses facebook.  If you saw Josie riding through the rough terrain of the open range, her horse would have her newest book branded into its butt (assuming it didn’t harm the horse to do so, she strikes me as an animal lover).  The words ‘author’ and ‘platform’ are common terms in her vocabulary.

Judy is a teacher through and through.  Her opinion may lean strongly to one side more than the other, but she still wants you to play nice with the other kids.  Her experience led her to be in the middle of social media without fully realizing it.  She began in journalism, she was writing articles for parenting magazines, and then blogging, and now it’s just what she does.  The use of social media allowed her to work on her passion, the site www.care2.com, an activist site that helps people find ways to get involved, donate, and stay educated about causes.

Finally, you get to Jim.  Patiently smirking throughout all the banter of this rodeo, he’ll tell you, Yes, you need to be involved with social media, but don’t ask him how to do any of it.  He voices his opinion on his radio show, Sound Opinions, with Greg Kot.  He says writers do need to market themselves because most agents, including his, aren’t going to do it for you.  He has no idea what his agent actually does, and yet he earns 15% of the sales.  I actually got to chat with Jim for awhile before the day started one morning and he was very affable, happy to sign the book of his I’d purchased, and chatted with me about authors to check out and his band, Vortis, a delightful three piece band of “agitainment.”  Jim may not know the ins and out of html code (which for some of us is comforting, raises hand), but he knows the people to get him there and makes himself very available to the public.  (He told me to email him!)

This post may not have answered all your questions about social media, but it shows there’s a broad spectrum of opinions about it, hence the Wild Wild West of Publishing…and Platforms…and Print on Demand…and oh hell, gang, grab a pair of chaps and a lasso, we’re going writing!  I’ll be your host, Jess Witkins (picture Jack Palance with red hair), Perseverance Expert and Social Media Pony Show Captain.  Come along, subscribe.

For more in depth information on using social media check out the Social Media Expert, Kristen Lamb and her book We Are Not Alone.

What questions do you have about social media?  How are you using it or not using it?  What do you wish it was doing that isn’t yet?

The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending

I took the next step this weekend.  I invested in myself, and attended the Madison, Wisconsin Writers Institute Conference.  I got lost in the city with its one-way streets, froze by Lake Mendota in 40 degree weather, and hammed it up with some really great writers.  I love it here!

The conference was exactly what I needed.  The breakout sessions alone gave me all the tips I needed to improve the book I’m working on.  I found some holes in my story, but that’s good, because now I can work on them.  As one attendee put it, “Well, they’ve given us all we need to know to write a successful book, now it’s up to us.”  I tried my best to attend a variety of topics so I could improve my plotting skills, learn about non-fiction, learn about the publishing business today, and along with that how to write query letters and synopses.  There was such a plethora of people I met and am excited to now know.  What I loved about this conference is how many hands on exercises the speakers had us do.  And from that point, it was up to us what we did with that material.  I pushed myself to participate a lot and challenge myself.  So I shared work a few times, I asked smart questions, and I even volunteered for an improv activity.  Jess Witkins, Acting Extraordinaire…  Anyway, I’m so glad I did.  I met more people because they came up to me and told me they loved my voice, what I wrote, and apparently, I’m FABulous at improv.  😉

Lori Devoti

The speakers at the conference came from across the country and were able to speak to a variety of genres/writing styles.  Lori Devoti is a paranormal romance writer who hosted a plotting party at the conference.  It must have been her magic wand waving over me at the conference because I got paired in the best group for our plotting exercise.  We had so much fun talking about our projects and all of us started marketing them for each other.  Which reminds me, I’ve got a theme song to work on…  Ok, back to Lori, she’s amazing!  She talks fast, she’s shows you the basics, and then she puts you to work.  Her workshop on character was also so helpful.  If you’re struggling with any characters in your own works ask yourself these three questions:  What do they love fearlessly?  What haunts them?  What do they think they cannot do? — Now, make them do it.  See what I mean, she’s brilliant.  So simple, and so sound.  Thank you, Lori!

Josie Brown

Josie Brown is a women’s lit fiction writer and HUGE advocate for social media.  I felt good knowing that none of the terms the panels were using about social media were new to me, and I’ll give all that thanks to Kristen Lamb, Social Media Expert!  Kristen, I wrote in your name and blog site on the evaluation sheet as a person to bring to future conferences.  Please come to Wisconsin!  The last panel on sunday discussed the writer’s role in digital media and Josie was so knowledgeable about the importance of creating an author brand before you seek publishing.  I was able to ask some questions and she really gave me some concrete ways to use my blog and  my twitter account and my facebook to get my VOICE out there and she continues to do this with her own blog.  I really appreciated the encouragement.

Ted Weinstein

I chose not to pitch to an agent at this conference.  I’m simply not ready.  My story isn’t developed far enough and I had too many unanswered questions MYSELF that it didn’t make sense to pay for 8 minutes of rejection from someone ELSE.  But Ted Weinstein is the man!  He was one of the agents meeting with writers working on non-fiction books.  If I were ready to pitch my memoirs to an agent, I would want Ted on my side.  Ted sat on panels and did his own session giving writers an inside scoop on what agents are looking for.  His feedback was depressing and honest and invaluable.  And I mean all of that as a high compliment.  He emphasized that as writers, we have to look at this path as a career and be professional about our publishing plans, i.e. how do we plan to market ourselves, because the publishing houses aren’t going to do it.  Not unless you’re writing the next Oprah Book Club Book, but that’s right she’s retiring! Nooooo!  Seriously, if I hadn’t listened to Ted speak I wouldn’t know what to expect when it came time to publish.  For example, ask the agent your pitching to what they’ve recently published?  Don’t you want an agent that is successfully selling people’s books on the market?!  I think Ted is a rare gem in the world of agents, a man who wants to help his writers with their careers.  Careers?  Jess, you mean we could potentially make a living from writing?  *Borrows Lori’s magic wand* Yes, dearest writers, you can feed yourself and your families by writing for a living, you just have to be somebody famous first.  Which takes us right back to Josie, use your blog, your facebook, and your twitter account to show the world YOU.

Are you following me?  No I mean that literally, SUBSCRIBE right now!  I’m not going anywhere!  I just claimed my area of expertise, check it out in my newly edited About page.

Your turn!  What are the areas of writing you are working on in your path to publication?  Are you already published?  Share with us what got you there!  How have you been shaped by other authors, reading them or meeting them?

And the Oscar for Best Writer Goes to…

Welcome to the 83rd Academy Awards!  If you missed the second most watched television event of the year, here are the highlights!

The hosts, James Franco, staring off into space, and Anne Hathaway, giggling so much and trying to be slapstick though no one appreciated it.

Melissa Leo wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in "The Fighter" and curses on stage in her enthusiasm!

Presenter Kirk Douglas takes his sweet time on stage hitting on Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo, who coincidentally walked off stage with his cane, while he walked with his hand holding her very "tightly".

Colin Firth made every woman's dream come true by winning the Best Actor role in the same film that took Best Picture, The King's Speech!

The food I made for my Oscar Party! Cucumber stuffed cherry tomatoes, bacon wrapped apricots with smoky honey barbecue, and a wine marinated antipasto platter!

I wish you could read this napkin better. It says, "Dinner is Poured."

The day went by very quickly, as did my whole weekend.  Amidst the rushed grocery shopping, dish cleaning, counter wiping, gift assembling, and cooking *whew* I was able to completely restart my story, beginning the book in a totally different place and adding more dialogue.  Woohoo!  I read the first page to my mom and best friend and asked for feedback on whether or not it hooked them.  Generally, they both really liked it, but did give me one place I could embellish the relationship between characters more intensely and that was appreciated.  So that gives me exactly one hour after work tonight to madly edit the first page, print it out, and mail it in to the writing contest at the Writers Institute conference I’ll be attending in April.  Nothing like a little deadline madness to tell your procrastination pixies to buzz off!  If they’re flying around your work space, please take time to check out Kristen Lamb’s Blog, she has helped me immensely with realistic goal setting, hooking your reader, and gives FREE advice on what to watch for in your story that may make an editor pass on your project.

Since I’m still in a celebrating mood from my Oscar party, “Cheers to Writing Weekends!” that also involve your BFF making asparagus soup, squash risotto with gorgonzola, and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes and your BF helping chop blocks of cheese and doing the dishes!  Yay!

Monday  Mash-up:

I actually had some time to get back into reading blogs by you wonderful fellow writers!  Here are my favorites from the past week!

Jillian sparked up a great debate on the mash-up of classic literature with sci-fi themes.  What do you think about this new wave of publications?  Check out her post, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer Seriously?

Discovered through Freshly Pressed, C C Lester, had a great post on the times she argued over whether she was a writer, or an author, or neither at all.  In the end, it was having a loyal reader that meant the most to her, but she’s certainly struck a chord with many of us so check out her post, So am I an Author Yet?

Wendy Matheson just kicked off Women’s History Month for me in her entertaining post, Strength, Thy Name is Woman! It details many inventions that are often accredited to men, but were actually made by women.

For your laughing pleasure, The Hack Novelist writes a letter to the guy holding a conference call in a crowded Starbucks cafe’.  I think he eloquently pens what we would all be thinking.  8 Pages and the Conference Call

I’ve also been following the very funny Mark, from Mark My Words as he battles the unemployment offices, takes on the world of freelance writing, and has to fire his maid and buy clothes at a second hand store.  Well… you’ll see.  Champagne Wishes on a Sparkling Water Budget

Happy writing and reading, friends!  Tell me about your weekends!  What writing goals did you accomplish?  If you found some great blogs this week, what are they?  I’d love to cheer you on and check out the posts you love!

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